By: Sandi Durell
Approaching my seat there was Marvin Hamlisch to my left, mesmerized by the video montage of memories, watching Fred, Ginger, Adele and other Astaire partners strut their stuff while Rob Ashford sat to my right, Kathleen Marshall a few seats in front and Chita behind me. What a prequel to this evening of magic! As the audience filled and the lights came down, we watched in awe of the master as little 9 year old Luke Spring walked out, put on his tap shoes and proceeded to wow everyone. Patricia Watt and Ava Astaire McKenzie welcomed the audience to the 30th Annual Fred and Adele Astaire Awards and the evening was off with a Special Founder’s Award to Kathleen Raitt.
After Awards were duly presented by Albert Maysles and John Turturro to the Outstanding Director of a Documentary, “Pina,” and by Tamara Tunie and Countess LuAnn de Lesseps for Excellence in Choreography in Film to “The Artist,” Joe Lanteri, Founder and Director of NYC Dance Alliance Foundation gave uplifting testimony as to why dance – one of the remarkable feats of the human body – lifts the mind, the spirit and has its own healing abilities as 18 year old Shannen O’Neill performed to a special arrangement of “S’Wonderful” and accepted the Adele Astaire Scholarship Award presented by Rob Ashford.
A group of 14-18 year olds from across the country spent 2 days in Newsies Boot Camp to present the excitement of “Seize The Day” the production number from that show and they were as good as Broadway. There were original cast members from “Fosse” performing excerpts that had the audience cheering for more.
The remarkable Chita Rivera gave a prelude of accolades about Liza, as film clips warmed memories; Liza who took over Gwen Verdon’s role as Roxy in the original “Chicago;” Kander & Ebb’s “The Rink” written for Chita & Liza; an unending list of Awards and everything Liza. Why even Tony Danza showed up for the occasion to help present. Marvin Hamlisch had his own raves calling her Kander & Ebb’s muse. But that wasn’t enough as the famous Baryshnikov led the group in the presentation of the Douglas Watt Lifetime Achievement Award to the iconic Liza Minnelli. It was an exciting moment punctuated by standing ovations.
But the evening was not over as Karen Ziemba presented the Award for Best male Dancer on Broadway to Leslie Odom, Jr. (Leap of Faith); Lee Roy Reams and Melissa Errico presented the Award for Best Female Dancer on Broadway to Lisa Nicole Wilkerson (Porgy & Bess); and Susan Stroman and Smash Choreographer Josh Bergasse presented the Excellence in Choreography on Broadway Award to Ron Brown (Porgy & Bess).
The evening came to a close with a group of about 40 young dancers from a small studio in Missouri doing a choreographed performance to “Steppin’ Out” while vocalist Richard H. Blake sang.
All I can say is Oh, what a night!
Photography: Barry Gordin